9 Thou shalt not covet (Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21; Rom. 7:7; 13:9)
Ex. 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Deut. 5:21 You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The New testament repeats the prohibition:
Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Rom 13:9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Covetousness goes to the very root of the fallen state of humanity, as we can see in the story of the temptation of Eve:
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Various aspects of her desires override her knowledge of the Lord’s commandment not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, a commandment Adam had taught her. Yet in the face of the desires, the commandment fades in importance.
In political life, politicians, both those who are lawyers and those who are not, know the law and its limits on their behavior. Yet lobbyists or other types of interest groups approach politicians with a variety of offers and promises ranging from re-election, to personal benefits and perks in the form of trips, gifts, money, etc. These things can blind a politician to the law as easily as the Woman was blinded to God’s one commandment by the enticement of the good looking fruit and its desire for wisdom about good and evil. How many times do people hear some form of Satan’s proposition: “How will you know if it is bad unless you try it?” Usually they are not offering you Brussels sprouts or rutabaga when they say that.
Everyone involved in politics ought to have an image of the temptation of Eve in their offices to remind them of their own susceptibility to covetous temptations. Job was well aware of the temptations to covet, which he asserts he did not give into:
Job 31:1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look upon a virgin?
2 What would be my portion from God above, and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity?
4 Does not he see my ways, and number all my steps?
5″If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hastened to deceit;
6 (Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!)
7 if my step has turned aside from the way, and my heart has gone after my eyes, and if any spot has cleaved to my hands;
8 then let me sow, and another eat; and let what grows for me be rooted out.
9 If my heart has been enticed to a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door;
10 then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down upon her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime; that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 for that would be a fire which consumes unto Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my increase.
The prophet Micah, writing in the middle of the 8th century BC, explains the moral evil of coveting in his description of his contemporaries:
Mic 2:1 Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil upon their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. 2 They covet fields and then seize them, And houses, and take them away. They rob a man and his house, A man and his inheritance.
The covetous consider the things that they desire or covet and then plan out the acquisition of those things while they are in bed. Their activity outside of bed is to take the actions to get what they desire, even if they do not really need them. The opening word, “Woe,” is a term from ancient funerals and in the Lord’s mouth it means that the people who covet other people’s property are already as good as dead in God’s view. Their desires for evil lead them to commit more evil.
Another ramification of the covetous person is that his or her desires become the basis for boastful pride, which is at the core of all other sins:
Ps. 10:3 For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.
Greedy desire for other people’s property needs self-justification by the greedy person, and for that reason they curse and spurn the Lord. His laws of justice prohibit the acquisition of other people’s property by any means that amounts to stealing, cheating and violence. As a result, the covetous need to “curse and spurn” the Lord in order to show that he is wrong in giving commandments that set limits to human desires and covetousness.
Isaiah proclaimed God’s just punishment for covetousness:
Isa 57:17 “Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, And he went on turning away, in the way of his heart.
God’s condemnation of covetousness is included among other sins that preclude the possibility of entering the Kingdom of God:
1 Cor. 6: 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
One specific aspect of covetousness concerns sexual relationships. That is why the commandments specify the prohibition of coveting a neighbor’s wife (Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21). The rest of Scripture confirms this:
Pro 6:25 Do not desire her beauty in your heart, Nor let her catch you with her eyelids.
Pro 6:24 To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Jer 5:8 “They were well-fed lusty horses, Each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife.
Ezek. 33:31 “And they come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people, and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain.
Mat 5:28 but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Eph 5:3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints
Eph 5:5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Col 3:5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
The commandment also prohibits the coveting of various kinds of property, since this lends itself to forms of greed:
Hab 2:9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house To put his nest on high To be delivered from the hand of calamity!
Jer 6:13 “For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely.
Jer 22:17 “But your eyes and your heart Are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, And on shedding innocent blood And on practicing oppression and extortion.”
Ecc 4:8 There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.
Ecc 5:10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. 11 When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?
Ps. 119:36 Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, And not to dishonest gain.
Luke 12:15 And He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
Act 20:33 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.”
Phil. 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
1Ti 3:2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money.
Heb 13:5 Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”